A Big Question for a Big Tech Show: Where Are the Women?

Author: David McMillin       

As the year comes to a close, CES — the annual electronics and technology trade show that takes over Las Vegas in early January — is accustomed to making headlines with rumors about what revolutionary devices will be unveiled on the show floor. This year, though, organizers have found themselves in the news for a less-flattering reason: a chorus of frustration over a lack of female keynote speakers at the 2018 edition. GenderAvenger, an online community forum that focuses on ensuring women are represented in the public dialog, issued an action alert about the issue. “For a show marked as ‘the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies,’ it sure seems like ‘for all’ really means ‘for all men,’” the alert read. “You still have over five weeks to make this right, CES.”

GenderAvenger’s alert caught the attention from some high-profile names in the tech industry. Leslie Berland, CMO of Twitter, took to her company’s platform. “Hey @CES,” Berland wrote. “Big respect for what you’ve built. Please do better here. I’ve got a long list of amazing women to hit your stage.”

Antonio J. Lucio, Global CMO of HP Inc., wrote, “This must stop! Inconceivable @CES #CESallwhitemales. We must change: No panel without females. No event without female and people of color keynotes.”

Publications such as Fast Company, AdAge, and NBCNews all covered the social conversation, and the buzz prompted a response from Karen Chupka, senior vice president, CES & corporate business strategy, Consumer Technology Association. Chupka highlighted that the show has included 21 female keynote speakers over the past 11 years and the organization’s pride in welcoming a diverse set of speakers to the stage.

Still, she recognized the problem. “To keynote at CES, the speaker must head (president/CEO level) a large entity who has name recognition in the industry,” Chupka wrote. “As upsetting as it is, there is a limited pool when it comes to women in these positions. We feel your pain. It bothers us, too. The tech industry and every industry must do better.”

CES isn’t alone in having a main stage dominated by men. The Precision Medicine World Conference faced a backlash about its male-dominated program in 2016. PayPal caught plenty of criticism when the company hosted a panel on gender equality last year that was missing a fairly important component: women. Other conferences may not receive negative media attention for missteps when it comes to program development, but the problem persists across many industries.

Share Your Story

Does your organization have an action plan for ensuring that the stage gives a microphone to equal gender representation? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts on how event organizers can avoid the current challenges facing CES. And listen to this Convene podcast on why we need more female and minority conference speakers.

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